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A Girl, a Granddad and a Dolphin

August 23, 2002|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a summer of discovery for lovely, sensitive, 16-year-old Vicky: During her annual vacation stay on Seven Bay Island, she finds that she prefers a serious scientist-type guy to last year's bad-boy crush, her grandfather nurtures her gift for poetry ... and she learns that she can communicate with dolphins.

Madeline L'Engle fans will notice changes in the TV adaptation of her novel "A Ring of Endless Light" (8 p.m. Disney Channel)--Vicky is only torn between two guys, not three, for instance.

But a strong dash of the tale's poignant spirit survives, thanks to Mischa Barton's luminous presence as Vicky and the venerable James Whitmore as her tender and wise grandfather.

Vicky's empathic tie to dolphins, discovered through her contact with young dolphin researcher Adam (Ryan Merriman), sparks a couple of dramatic near-drowning rescues and helps end an illegal drift-net fishing operation run by the dysfunctional dad of rich kid Zachary (Jared Padelecki). It also reveals the dolphins' mysterious link with the universe.

The relationship between Vicky and her dying grandfather, however, is the heart of this coming-of-age movie. Their resonant connection is underscored by Whitmore's moving reading of the verse by 17th century poet Henry Vaughan that inspired L'Engle's book and its message:

"I saw Eternity the other night/ Like a great ring of pure and endless light.... "

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